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Minorities and indigenous peoples suffer more ill-health and poorer quality of care, new global report launched as UN meets to follow up on MDGs

25 September 2013

Minorities and indigenous peoples suffer more ill-health and receive poorer quality of care, says an international rights organization in a new global report.

Minority Rights Group International’s (MRG) flagship report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013, presents a global picture of the health inequalities experienced by minorities and indigenous communities.

The report is launched to coincide with a United Nations General Assembly meeting to follow up on efforts made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and says that ill-health and poor healthcare are often consequences of discrimination.

‘Indigenous peoples and minorities are often marginalized in all aspects of life, such as access to water and sanitation, education and employment. But the marginalization and inequalities experienced by these groups in relation to health outcomes are particularly stark,’ says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

‘MRG believes that everyone – regardless of their ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural background – should have the right to access appropriate care and to lead healthy lives. After all, the right to health is the most fundamental right – the right to survive,’ he adds.

In Africa, Asia and the Americas the report says that the maternal mortality rate – a key area of concern for the MDGs – is generally much higher among indigenous and minority communities, particularly those in remote areas.

For instance, in Pakistan, the maternal mortality ratio for Baluchistan – largely inhabited by the Baluch minority – stands at nearly three times the national average. Women and girls from marginalized communities in Kenya and across East Africa, who are subjected to harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage, are at high risk from obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged or obstructed pregnancy.

Other key MDGs include reducing child mortality and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

The report finds that in Guatemala, indigenous children experience 20 per cent higher malnutrition than their Ladino counterparts, whilst in Europe Roma children have less access to vaccines and have higher infant mortality rates.

Meanwhile in Tanzania, national HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns were issued only in the dominant language of Swahili. Anti-retrovirals, although free, were not easily accessible in districts where pastoralists predominantly live.

The report makes key recommendations for ensuring that minorities and indigenous people have access to life-saving healthcare, such as the training of minority or indigenous staff and increased community involvement in local healthcare initiatives.

The UN General Assembly must take into consideration the perspectives of minorities and indigenous communities, the factors that they identify as priorities for delivery of healthcare, and the problems and structural barriers that exist, in the formulation of a new generation of development goals after 2015, says MRG.

A case study in the report shows that involving Adivasi women in the planning and evaluating of health care has significantly reduced deaths and empowered women among Adivasi communities in Jharkhand and Odisha. Over 84 million Adivasis (original inhabitants) from more than 500 tribal groups live in western, central, eastern and north-eastern India.

‘The report, with its focus on health inequalities, clearly shows that any post-MDGs framework is doomed to fail unless discrimination towards minorities and indigenous peoples is urgently addressed,’ says Carl Söderbergh. ‘Critical to this is the involvement of community representatives in the UN discussions.’

According to UN estimates, there are some 370 million individuals belonging to indigenous peoples in the world, and a much greater number of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Over 900 million people, or, some one in seven of the world’s population, belong to groups that experience disadvantage as a result of their identity.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • Carl Söderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications, Minority Rights Group International
    • Carolyn Stephens, co-author of the chapter Improving indigenous maternal and child health, Professor of Ecology and Global Health of the National University of Tucuman, Argentina, and UCL Honorary Professor of Global Health Equity, UCL Institute of Health Equity
    • Esther Somoire, Executive Director, Centre for Indigenous Women and Children, Kenya. T: +254 726 904 808. E: Watch a video produced for the launch of the report. Please let the Press Office know if you use the video.
    • State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 is available for free download here
    • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

    To arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected] .